The Babble about “Gun Violence”


When I was driving to work the other day, the only thing on the radio was a discussion of the latest crazy-high-school-student shooting. Two “newscasters” with, apparently, no news to cast were babbling about how terrified parents “across the nation” must feel about learning that someone, somewhere had used a gun in one of America’s 100,000 public schools. Of course, the babblers didn’t make the common-sense observation that such terrified parents need to calm down, the better to notice what their own kids are doing and think about whether some of them might need some mental help.

The thing that struck me most was the lead babbler’s constantly repeated query, “Why are Americans so violent?” If this query prompts you to ask, “So violent, compared with whom?”, he had an answer. Compared with the Europeans. “When you talk to Europeans, they all wonder why Americans are so violent, when in Europe, they don’t have this violence at all.” Presumably, murdering hundreds of millions of your fellow Europeans, until the Americans come in and teach you better manners, doesn’t count as “violence.” Presumably, soccer riots don’t count as violence. Presumably, the Europeans’ until-1989 addiction to the institutionalized violence of communism doesn’t count as violence.

But there was another example. “I’ve talked to Pakistanis who ask why America is such a violent country.” Oh you have, have you? Isn’t Pakistan one of those countries that has trouble turning terrorists away? And the Pakistanis think we’re violent.

In fact, the murder rate in the United States (4.7 per 100,000 population) is very far beneath the world murder rate (6.9), beneath the murder rate of a number of countries in Europe, beneath the murder rate of dear old Pakistan (7.8), and beneath the murder rate of scores of other countries and “countries” — virtually none of which, so far as I know, are habitually or even occasionally criticized for their violent dispositions. But as usual, America loses the game of cultural comparison, the function of which is never to make any society look bad except ours.

Here is Wikipedia on the recent execution of the uncle of the current dictator of North Korea:

On 12 December 2013 state media announced he had been executed, claiming that "despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him." The 2700 word statement detailing the accusations also included other charges such as placing a granite monument carved with the supreme leader's words "in a shaded corner," "let[ting] the decadent capitalist lifestyle find its way to our society by distributing all sorts of pornographic pictures among his confidants," and "half-heartedly clapping, touching off towering resentment of our service personnel and people" when one of Kim Jong-Un's promotions was announced.

Reading this kind of thing, almost everybody laughs and says something equivalent to “there they go again.” That’s just how the North Koreans are, isn’t it? The high-class babblers then take to their computers to consider whether such events increase or decrease the possibility that North Korea will attack its neighbors with nuclear bombs, or simply continue starving its own people. There is no analysis of why the North Koreans are so violent, any more than there is any analysis of why the Pakistanis, the Mexicans (23.7 murder rate), the Hondurans (91.6), or any other people are violent — not to mention the South Africans (31.8), among whom even a man accused of helping to burn two other men to death with a necklace of burning tires can rise to the exalted position of fake sign-language interpreter at the funeral of the national hero. But there is always plenty of analysis of what is psychologically, socially, and spiritually wrong with “American exceptionalism,” the idea that the United States is in some way better than other countries. America is allowed to be exceptional in only one way — its amazing level of “violence.”

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I've been thinking recently about the implications of the increasingly apparent and still evolving "death of American exceptionalism", so I found your consideration of the media market reality of American exceptionalism in the internet age welcome. I had not considered, before reading your piece, that if judged by the modern metrics, American exceptionalism appears it is alive and well... although I will admit gladly that I'm disappointed that the reason seems it is more a function resulting from the increasingly vapid media-centric awareness of others in the internet age, rather than a function of others proper judgment of the basic quality of our ideas, as that is revealed in our actions, and in the messaging we create.

Apparently others think America is more violent than it is, mostly because American media succeed in making it appear that way. The real meaning of the story, then, is that America's problems appear more interesting to others than the problems in their own countries ? So, America is seen by others almost as the Kim Kardashian of policy news... as compared, say, to Kim Jong-Un's being seen as, well, the Kim Jong-Un ?

Our violence may not be as real as others are led to think... or want to believe... which doesn't mean that we have to accept being seen as any less interesting ? That Honduran's and South African's would even bother having an opinion about the level of violence in America... is remarkable, to me. Apparently our publicists are still doing their jobs, somehow keeping us topping the headlines in the social policy columns, even in those distant markets ? No such thing as bad publicity ?

I wonder why whoever did the polling didn't instead ask the same questions that are asked of Americans... "Do you think recent American policy change has America headed in the right direction"?

Of course, America's power, and America's misuse of that power, still make our government and its problems, if not the rest of us and our problems, relevant to others.

Uncorrected, errors in judgment and the corrosive impact of corruption are cumulative... and with bad choices, today's Kim Kardashian can and will rapidly become tomorrow's Lady Ga Ga, Miley Cyrus or Boy George. No such thing as bad publicity, doesn't convert stupid choices into good ones.

American exceptionalism is not dead, yet. But, the reason for having pride in it have been lost, as what is exceptional about America now has changed, while those few responsible for sustaining the original fact of it, in our adherence to basic principles different from others, don't understand why that matters ? I think if Bartholdi were alive, today, he'd be asking for his statue back.

If our political leaders don't believe in American exceptionalism, in the original version... then, it will not exist, only as they opt to fail in meeting our higher expectations and their own fundamental obligations. But, making that choice means that they don't believe in the value of the animating idea of America... don't understand the brilliant accomplishment and giant leap in human understanding that it was understood to be the product of, once, and it means they are dangerously, even stupidly dangerously ignorant of history.

The headlines do seem to validate those concerns.

Whether America itself remains exceptional, or not... the fundamental ideas that once used to animate America, will remain so, but, Liberty in America is dying... while the media focus on manufacturing 'news' no one can use.

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